Horses as Teachers – What One Volunteer Learned

“Rock, paper, scissors is always the best way to make decisions.”

Kelsey Bolte, an MU service learning student that volunteered with our Equine Program this semester, shares about her experience while volunteering at Coyote Hill, as well as 15 enlightening things she learned from the kids and from the experience…

My service learning project was working as an Equine Program Assistant. I completed most of my hours at the arena, but also spent a few days working with children in their homes doing things like tutoring or simply enjoying dinner with the family.

As a program assistant, I primarily taught children horse handling and riding skills. The children are expected to handle, groom, and tack up their horses by themselves, but I was always there to lend a helping hand if a child was struggling. The children all have different levels of experience and skill, but it was my job to help make sure each individual was always set up for success. My main goal was to help them build confidence in themselves, and take pride in the things they accomplished while working with these wonderful animals.

Animal therapy (specifically equine) is one of the topics we spent a significant amount of time on my college class. It has been proven in many studies and real-world applications that horses possess a gift that can affect people of all ages in very special ways. Equine therapy has a wide variety of benefits. The children at Coyote Hill have emotional needs that range far beyond yours and mine. The horses at Coyote Hill provide these kids with a friendly face that is always welcoming and willing to make them happy. The children absolutely adore the horses, and often do not want to leave the barn. They hug and kiss their horses, and often times we hear them saying “thank you” to their horses for providing them with a fun ride that day. This type of behavior is always very rewarding for me to see. The children are not only building confidence, but also building a relationship with an animal based on companionship, love, and trust.

There is nothing negative I can possibly say about Coyote Hill. All of the staff and children are ready to welcome any who walk through their doors, and they will make you feel more appreciated than you have ever felt in your life. I learned so much during my time at Coyote Hill…

  1. Children are extremely forgiving, despite what their past holds.
  2. When a formerly abused eight-year-old runs up to me with a huge smile and hugs me each time she sees me, my heart will melt and I will fight back tears every time.
  3. Horses are great teachers, and they teach children to be humble.
  4. Rock, paper, scissors is always the best way to make decisions.
  5. If a six year old can manage to handle, groom, tack up, and ride his horse with hardly any help, anyone can!
  6. It is always okay to ask for help.
  7. Riding a horse creates a smile on a child that can light up the whole world.
  8. To watch a child brush a horse and talk to the horse like it is their best friend is perhaps one of the sweetest sights that exist.
  9. Equine therapy has a wide range of benefits that can emotionally help at-risk children just as much as it can physically help disabled adults.
  10. Dinnertime in a household of ten people is one of the most beautiful family moments one can experience in their life.
  11. The Home Parents and employees at Coyote Hill have chosen to not live an average life, but an above average one. They have chosen to be the caretakers of these children no matter what sacrifices they have to make. They are indeed some of the most kind-hearted and selfless people I have ever met.
  12. It is just as important to be proud of other peoples’ accomplishments as it is to be proud of your own.
  13. Working with children that have been marginalized is quite possibly the most rewarding job one can have.
  14. Horses are the most patient teachers. Some will put up with almost anything. One Coyote Hill horse even has a habit of closing his eyes to take a nap while the kids spend up to 20 minutes getting him ready to ride!
  15. Volunteering at a place like Coyote Hill is more appreciated than one can imagine. Best of all, the staff and children of Coyote Hill make you FEEL that appreciation. So much so that you won’t have to wonder if you made a difference…you will know you did. Not many things can top a feeling like that.